President Islam Karimov, who rules one of the most paranoid states on earth, has decreed that Uzbekistan’s most senior government officials must seek his personal permission to travel abroad on business. At the same time, his government is expanding its network of vigilante groups to police the hoi polloi, who already require exit visas.
According to a presidential resolution published March 10 on Uzbekistan's official online database of legislation, lex.uz, several dozen figures now need, in essence, an exit visa signed by the strongman president, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989. The resolution "aims to improve the rules for officials to go abroad, improve the efficiency of official trips, ensure national security and protect state secrets."
The list of prominent affected figures includes the prime minister and deputy prime ministers, chairmen of parliamentary chambers, presidential advisers, the secretary of the Security Council, chairman of the Central Bank, top judges and their deputies, the prosecutor general, ministers, regional governors and even the head of the feared National Security Service.
Lesser figures – such as the head of the state news agency, the chiefs of major state-run industrial enterprises, and deputy regional governors and mayors and even university presidents – must seek permission from the Cabinet of Ministers to travel abroad on "business trips."
Karimov’s Uzbekistan already requires regular citizens to obtain special permits from authorities to travel abroad. Applications, submitted to local police stations but believed to be supervised by the National Security Service, Uzbekistan’s KGB-successor agency, must be certified by one’s employer or neighborhood committee.
Now, down there at the bottom of Uzbekistan’s steeply sloped social pyramid, the government is expanding vigilante groups to help ensure security.
The Podrobno.uz news website reported on March 11 that each neighborhood in Uzbekistan has been ordered to establish a mahalla posboni (“neighborhood guard”) to "build systematic interaction between citizens' self-government bodies and state institutions on issues of ensuring peace, stability and security in the country and maintaining public order [and] improving vigilance." It’s unclear if the guard will also have the right to check exit visas.
Karimov’s new Soviet-style security measures come at a time of rising instability in Moscow’s former dominion. In Ukraine, another corrupt post-Soviet oligarchy has just collapsed. And at home, in recent months the Uzbek president’s eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, has engaged in a very public spat with the head of the National Security Service, raising worries about the threat of a protracted power struggle as Karimov, who just turned 76, exits the political scene.